Texas prisons will no longer allow clergy in the death chamber after the US Supreme Court blocked the scheduled execution of a man who argued his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser couldn't accompany him. Effective immediately, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will only permit prison security staff into the execution chamber, a spokesman said Wednesday. The policy change comes in response to the high court's ruling staying the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the "Texas 7" gang of escaped prisoners. Texas previously allowed state-employed clergy to accompany inmates into the room where they'd be executed, but its prison staff included only Christian and Muslim clerics, the AP reports.
In light of this policy, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas couldn't move forward with Murphy's punishment unless his Buddhist adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state's choosing accompanied him. One of Murphy's lawyers, David Dow, says the policy change does not address their full legal argument and mistakes the main thrust of the court's decision. "Their arbitrary and, at least for now, hostile response to all religion reveals a real need for close judicial oversight of the execution protocol," Dow says. Prison chaplains will still be able to observe executions from a witness room and meet with inmates on death row beforehand, says Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel.
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